These perfectly moist turkey meatballs feature za’atar, a classic Middle Eastern spice. Serve them atop a unique combination of chewy whole grain farro spiked with lemon juice, dates, cinnamon, and cranberries.
Have you ever tried meat pies? I have, and they were one of my very first forays into Middle Eastern cuisine. My husband is one-quarter Lebanese and he grew up eating them, so it was only a matter of time until the opportunity to try them arose. If you’re in the dark, they’re small, palm-sized pies made with bread dough and filled with beef or lamb, onion, and a combination of spices (often cinnamon and allspice). This recipe looks pretty close to the real deal.
After loving meat pies, I graduated to kebabs and then lamb chops and labneh (a thick and creamy cheese/yogurt). I enjoyed every single thing I tried. The combination of spices is just so different from the oregano, basil, and garlic that typically grace most Italian cooking (which is where I’m most at home). So when I spotted a small bag of za’atar at my local Whole Foods, I immediately placed it in my cart to incorporate into a recipe later. Well, the time is now, my friends.
Since meatballs and other small bites of meat (aka kebabs) are so popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, I stuck with the former for my first try, and it was a good decision. I chose ground turkey as my base to keep things nice and light, but I think this recipe would also be amazing with ground beef, lamb, or even chicken. Feel free to substitute your favorite! The end result was extremely moist meatballs packed with za’atar flavor that practically melt in your mouth.
Don’t stop with the meatballs – I highly, highly recommend whipping up a batch of Spiced Date and Lemon Farro to serve alongside for a complete meal. The chewy farro pairs perfectly with dates (also commonly used in Middle Eastern foods), dried cranberries, lemon juice, and more spices (a pinch of za’atar plus some cinnamon). The end result is savory, spicy, and slightly sweet – SO good! Let me know if you give it a try.
- 1 pound ground turkey
- ¼ cup bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon za'atar spice blend
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 16-18 ounces quick-cooking farro
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup dates, chopped
- ¼ cup dried cranberries (I used sweetened but unsweetened work, too)
- 1 teaspoon za'atar spice blend
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350*F. In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon za'atar spice blend, egg, sea salt, and ground black pepper. Be careful not to overmix as this may result in tougher meatballs.
- Using your hands, roll out 2" meatballs and place on a silicone baking mat or aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until no pink remains.
- While meatballs are cooking, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the farro. I used quick-cooking farro which was ready in about 10 minutes. Strain and return to the pot.
- Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, dates, cranberries, za'atar spice blend, garlic powder, and cinnamon. Serve the meatballs atop the farro and enjoy!
The breadcrumbs may be replaced with gluten-free breadcrumbs or almond flour, if preferred.
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